"What a day, huh? Too windy for surfing, though." Watching the palms get shoved around in the L.A. breeze, a concern for waves is the only thing that gives him away as John Slattery. For one last mud run with the press for Mad Men, however, Roger Sterling is in full-effect: light navy suit, crisp shirt, and silver dollar hair, which is not so strictly tamed as in seasons past. The whole look is a bit of a throwback. Not to the show’s apex of style, but to the Roger Sterling fans have always known and admired.
We knew the end was coming, not just by the natural cycle of a series, but the end for them and us. Whenever the camera panned over the perfect grid of a hundred women at typewriters or Pete Campbell marveled at black people owning appliances or Betty Draper left the house, the doomed modalities slid into view like burnt out cars to remind us this nostalgia trip will stop somewhere.
For those just tuning in: Scion and silver-slick account man Roger Sterling, the guy who left his wife for his secretary and considers switching from whiskey to vodka an act of preventative care, took up LSD as a hobby and emerged the one true harbinger of the world after Mad Men, to the shock of fans. The awkward focus of our conversation on the famous man's famous hair leads to an intriguing discussion – isn't the guy with the completely affirmed outward appearance the perfect candidate? Is Roger too rich to give a fuck?
"You mean he doesn't have to worry about the way he looks?" Slattery asks.
Certainly not like the rest of us, no. It's a major obstacle removed from his life.
"Everybody worries about the way they look," Slattery suggests, a Mad Men-inspired Birchbox grooming kit in front of him. "Everybody's insecure. There isn't a lot of outward exhibition of Roger's insecurity. There are moments of reflection which don't necessarily concern his clothes. But he changes. If you were secure of the way you looked, why change?"
Then again, Don Draper, a spinning top of insecurities about which tomes will eventually be written, has looked the same for a decade. "He doesn't seem to be affected," Slattery opines. "I don't know. Is change an indication of the confidence to do something else? Or the insecurity that someone looks better than you do?"
It's a genuine question of Sterling, too, who has — hair, patterns, lapels, and habits included — shifted subtly with the times. His attempt to prove he's not as old as he looks despite each day and each drink suggesting otherwise.
"I wish I could be like him, but he's also concerned with bigger things," Slattery continues. "It might not seem like he is, because he's usually concerned with where his next drink is coming from or who he's gonna sleep with, but I think all of that is…. People drink for a reason. Because they want to feel better about their lives. Roger says that "we drink because it's what men do," but the men he's talking about just came out of World War II. He has his own insecurities and issues. He was a lousy father and he knows it. I say that because the last time we saw him was in a mud puddle and his daughter was telling him to go fuck himself."
On the contrary, the 52-year-old family man and surfer, more at home hidden under a baseball cap, has a lingering discomfort with his status as a style icon. The signature spun-metal coiffure was from the job previous to the Mad Men pilot and the look stuck.
"If it's super grey you're in the beauty parlor every five days. That’s not my idea of a good time." What he does appreciate is an embrace of aging that Sterling signifies: "We’re only going one way as we're getting older, and there's something a little disturbing about men with dyed hair. That's kind of what was great about movies in the seventies to me. Hair wasn't perfect and teeth weren't perfect. Sneakers were shitty. Like Cassavetes's movies, people showed up and the streets weren't wetted down. There was gum on the pavement. Big cars were bouncing around. There was less scrutiny."
For a show that wraps so much beauty and symmetry around an America still baffled by civil rights and barreling toward Nixon, it's hard to imagine the era coming on like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, but Slattery says the conclusion goes well beyond the "sartorial thickening" on the show's surface. He welcomes the moment the story is about to enter, even if it does mean the end, for Roger Sterling and the series that made him a household name.
"People get threadbare, you know? Roger's been living the way he has for so long. How long can something like that hold up? If you beat yourself up like that, it starts to show."